Dec 07 2010

Organizing Your Design Inspirations

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Virtually every creative out there turns to designs and images created by others to get inspired now and then. Whether you use web design galleries or other sources of visual inspiration, you’ve probably had times when you’ve felt like you’re spending too much time looking for inspiration and not enough time actually using that inspiration.
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This is why collecting and organizing inspirational images is important for designers. It lets you spend your free time browsing inspirational sites, but makes the images you’ve found easily accessible when you actually need to start designing. Here, we’ve put together a guide to organizing your visual inspiration so that you can access it whenever you need it, without spending hours aimlessly browsing.

Online Bookmarking

There are dozens of great bookmarking sites out there, all of which can be used for organizing your design inspirations. While regular bookmarking sites like Google Bookmarks or Delicious can work, visual bookmarking sites are a better fit if you’re looking to save visual inspiration. One thing to make sure of when signing up for any visual bookmarking site: be sure they have a bookmarklet or browser plugin to make saving images easier. If it’s a hassle to save an image, you’re less likely to do so.

Yay!Everyday
Yay!Everyday is an invite-only bookmarking service, though they’re more about sharing images with others than keeping them to yourself. Unlike similar sites, Yay!Everyday carefully selects members, so you’ll have to send them a link to your work or your site in order to get accepted.

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FFFFOUND
FFFFOUND is an invite-only visual bookmarking service, though invites generally aren’t too hard to come by now that the service has grown to reasonable size. And you don’t have to register to view the feeds of others.

VisualizeUs
VisualizeUs doesn’t require an invite, and even has a Firefox extension for saving images. You can sign up with either a Facebook or Twitter account.

Imgfave
Imgfave lets you save your inspiring images, as well as follow other users. You can create and view collections, too. It works with a Twitter or Facebook account. Imgfave is built on Tumblr, so you can also follow it with your Tumblr account.

We Heart It
We Heart It is a popular visual bookmarking site that you can save images to or browse for inspiration. You can also follow other users, as well as favorite images that have been shared by others. The tagging system is only used sporadically, so it’s difficult to do a comprehensive search of the site.

PicoCool
PicoCool is another invite-only service, though you can request an invite right on their website, rather than having to track down an existing member. The PicoCool community is dedicated to uncovering awesome images from around the world that you might not see otherwise.

Zootool
Zootool is a great image bookmarking site with tools to collect and organize your bookmarks, as well as tools for sharing them with others.

Image Spark
Image Spark is a bookmarking tool that offers upload tools for Firefox, Mac, and other web browsers. You can also favorite images that others have uploaded. And you can put together collections for specific inspiration.

Pichaus
Pichaus lets you create private collections of images, that you can keep just to yourself or share with friends. You can also follow other users for inspiration.

Ember
Ember is like an online design scrapbook. You can save screenshots and images, and share them with others. You also have the option to follow other users, or just explore the feeds of others.

Favorites on Gallery Sites

Most art gallery sites (like DeviantArt) allow users to favorite individual images. This is a fine way to save images on a particular site, though if you tend to frequent more than one or two sites, it can get confusing (“Which site was that awesome illustration on again?” is often followed by an hour of searching across five or ten sites for the image you were thinking of).

But if you tend to only visit one or two sites like this, favorites are a quick and easy way to save images for later reference. Of course, unless you also have the option to tag or otherwise organized your favorites, this can get overwhelming very quickly. It’s not the most ideal solution.

Local Folders

Saving images to local folders is another option. There are a few drawbacks to this method: first of all, it can start to take up a huge amount of hard drive space if you save a lot of images. There are also limits to things like tagging and searching.

To overcome these shortfalls, you’ll need to do two things: create a logical hierarchy of folders, and name your images properly. Using a browser plugin like Pixlr Grabber for Firefox or Chrome lets you take screenshots of any page (in whole or part), and save it to a directory of your choosing. It can also be helpful to add a description to images in their meta information.

Cleaning out your inspiration folders on a regular basis is also a good idea. When you’ve completed a project, delete the images you’d saved specifically to inspire that project. And periodically clean out your general inspiration files, as your style changes or as you start saving too many similar items.

Local Apps

Organizing your image files with an application like iPhoto can also be a good idea, as it makes browsing your images easier. You can put images into folders and then see thumbnails of all of them at once.

Another option is LittleSnapper, which lets you save screenshots of websites as well as organize and edit the screenshots you’ve captured. Their rating and commenting features are incredibly valuable, and make saving images locally a lot more like a web app. LittleSnapper also provides sharing tools that let you upload to Flickr, export images, upload via FTP and SFTP, or work with Ember, their online sharing service.

Start a Blog

Starting a blog might seem a bit extreme just to keep track of your visual inspiration, but if you think about it, a blog has all the tools you need to effectively manage your bookmarks. It has tagging and search, the popular platforms (Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, Posterous, etc.) have plenty of tools for saving new posts, and it’s easy to access your inspiration from anywhere or share it with others.

There are a couple of things to consider if you go this route. First of all, it’s unlikely you’ll want to create a dedicated website with its own domain name just to keep track of you bookmarks. So either create a subdomain on your existing website, or sign up for a free blogging service. Tumblr and Posterous are particularly well-suited for use as a visual bookmarks site, but other free blogging platforms work, too.

Decide whether you want your inspiration blog to be private or public. Most blogging platforms will let you password-protect your blog, so that’s an option if you don’t want to share your bookmarks with everyone else. On sites like Tumblr, you might want to consider following other users who have similar aesthetic taste to your own for even more inspiration.

Install a bookmarklet or browser plugin for saving new images to your blog. This makes it quick and simple to save the images you want without having to access your blog’s back-end directly. Make sure you take the time to tag and/or categorize your images for easier searching later.

Why Bother?

I’m sure a lot of people out there wonder what the point of all this organization is. The idea behind organizing your visual inspiration for later reference is that it saves time. When you need inspiration, rather than having to search the web for hours, you can turn to your own personal inspiration files. It’s the visual equivalent to the swipe files that copywriters often use.

By keeping your own visual swipe file, you can have inspiration at your fingertips, any time you need it. If you have a set style that you usually work in, these files can save you from having to wade through tons of images that just don’t fit your aesthetic.

But There is a Downside

One thing that can work against having your own swipe file is that it can result in getting stuck in a rut. If you only ever save the same kinds of images, and then only turn to your own files to get inspired for a project, you may start to notice all of your designs looking a little too similar.

Make sure that you pull from varied sources for your swipe file. Look for images that aren’t necessarily in line with your visual style, but offer inspiration in terms of form or layout. Look for something unusual you can use to expand your design horizons. Explore new sources for finding images to add to your file, and constantly add new and varied content.

(ik)

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About the Author

Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with many years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of Internet Famous: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Online Celebrity.

Comments and Discussions
  • Jess Eddy, 07 December 2010

    I follow the blog approach and post screenshots of great design to my blog and tag it with “design inspiration” so it’s always available for browsing when I need it:
    jesseddy.tumblr.com/tagged/inspiration

  • $hekh@r, 08 December 2010

    Definitely a worth collection. Some of the them are new to me & I am going to try that.

    Some days ago, I collected some beautiful web design galleries that can be helpful in finding right inspiration.
    cssjunction.com/inspiration/best-gallries-for-design-inspiration

  • Hitesh Mehta, 08 December 2010

    Very nice, thanks for sharing!

  • Hilary, 08 December 2010

    I’m glad to see some alternatives but you completely skipped the two tools I have actually used for this purpose somehow: Evernote and OneNote.

    Evernote more so for collecting inspirational items. Grab it, tag it, and even know where you got it from (mostly… it doesn’t handle the links back to rss feeds very well.)

  • klickreflex, 08 December 2010

    I agree with Hillary: I couldn’t think of a better tool than evernote for inspiration management. It’s online AND offline, it’s available an a cool application on various platforms as well as on the web. It has folders and tagging as well as a handy screen clipping utilities and browser extensions. And nope, I’m not affiliated with them ;)

  • Yari, 08 December 2010

    I was going to add Evernote to the list, but I see other people have already commented this. So I’ll just agree ;-) I love all the other options though, great to keep in mind. Thanks for sharing.

  • Josh Stauffer, 08 December 2010

    I’ve been using Google Bookmarks for the longest time to keep track of my design inspirations but this is definitely not an efficient organizational approach. I look forward to checking out some of the services you’ve outlined above.

  • Sergei Tatarinov, 08 December 2010

    The bookmarkign sites you have listed here were covered on Desing Instruct not so long ago, and check the comments for a ton of good suggestions:

    http://designinstruct.com/articles/resources/10-image-bookmarking-sites-for-visual-inspiration/

    I also wonder why you didn’t mention Keynote?

    And lastly, I can suggest Microsoft OneNote – if you need a local bookmarking and organizing monster. It’s better than Keynote and have no uploading limit, since it’s using your computer and not webserver. It also has a mobile app but for WinMobile powere devices only. Yeah yeah ‘Microsoft’ you might say… but cares as long as it does a good job?

    • Sergei Tatarinov, 09 December 2010

      *bookmarking
      *Design Instruct
      *WinMobile powereD
      *.. but WHO cares

      Awfully too many typos :)

  • Vivek Parmar, 08 December 2010

    thanks for sharing this, some of them are new to me.I will give a try to some of the services mentioned by you.

  • Jordi, 13 December 2010

    You didn’t mention the on I think is the best by far: Pinterest.com

    Dropular is pretty good too.

  • Curtis Scott, 13 December 2010

    I find myself saving more stuff for future R&D than I ever have the time to go back and look at, this post was very helpful with this, thanks!

  • Megan Sax, 16 December 2010

    Goodness what an amazing post! Now just to decide which one is the one to use! I have my stuff all over the place and it will nice to have it all organized for once. Great idea and thanks for the post!

  • Su Hall, 21 December 2010

    This is so awesome. Thank you for this list. I appreciate, too, the added comments from other readers. I have a tip, too.
    I found a program called ‘Everything’, from voidtools.com, which indexes all of your files. Type in a keyword that you are seeking and it displays every file on your drives with that letter combo. It works really fast. I use this all the time when working. Saves having to even scroll through my own files. When you find the item, right-click and ‘Open Path’ and that folder will open. This will work great providing you have the files named appropriately.
    Your site rocks! It it has been the source of many interesting and beneficial articles for me. Thank you!

    Happy Holidays!

    Su

  • Cgbaran, 25 December 2010

    I always like to keep them on my hard drive but its getting complicated sometimes:S

  • Joseph, 13 February 2011

    I save inspiration to a folder on my computer which is placed in my dock so it’s pretty easy to save things off quickly. To view them later, I just open that folder in Bridge. For me, scrolling through other images I saved to get to the newer ones is actually kind of nice because I’ll forget what I put in there.

  • Liana Kloc, 05 June 2011

    Hmm it seems like your website ate my first comment (it was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I had written and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any tips and hints for rookie blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.

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